There’s a lot to be said for hype when it comes to horror movies. More than any other genre, horror is plagued by the perpetual pressure to produce “the most terrifying film of the year/since The Ring/of all time”. However, it should be noted that simply giving a new film this moniker, along with the inevitable Producer credit from James Wan, creator of so many former “most terrifying”s, may pull in audiences and multiply that minimal budget exponentially, but the chances of the flick actually living up to the title are sadly low.
After the trailer for David F. Sandberg’s Lights Out dropped, I, like many fans of the genre, was duly excited. An intriguing premise and positive word of mouth set this adaptation of Sandberg’s short film to sit amongst the greats.
Little Martin has the heebie-jeebies. Dad’s away and mum’s talking to herself. A pretty atmospheric cold open sees daddy stalked by a shadowy creature that can only exist when the lights are out (see what they did there?). Nice use of factory spotlights and creepy mannequins, along with that cracking scene from the trailer where the cleaning lady keeps playing with the light-switch, promises us an edge-of-the-seat spookfest ahead.
After the events at the factory, big sister Rebecca (a truly awful Teressa Palmer) and her hipster boyfriend (Alexander DiPersia) feel obliged to protect baby bro from their mother’s neuroses, manifesting in the form of spooky shadow monster Diana.
Hereafter follows a clunking roller-coaster of predictable jump-scares and a script from the mind of an undergrad at the Corman School of Horror Clichés. Ludicrous backstory in a vain attempt to give credibility to this gubbins merely solidifies the fact that there is not enough in the source material to stretch to a full ninety minutes feature (further proved by the film’s 72 minutes excluding credits…). Indeed, Lights Out’s hook is a great one; fear of the dark is one of horror’s greatest weapons, but without the necessary narrative, all we are left with is a watered-down cocktail of The Babadook, The Ring and Doctor Who’s Weeping Angels which rides the coattails of Wan’s former (and often inexplicable) successes.
The one surprising saving grace comes in the form of young Gabriel Bateman as the troubled Martin. Having previously appeared in another Wan-verse production, Annabelle, Bateman manages to break the tradition of annoying horror movie children by being the most thoughtful and believable actor in this rag-tag ensemble. Definitely one to watch in the future.
Much like 2013’s feature-length version of Mama, this is a film that would have done better to have remained a well-loved short. But then, that wouldn’t have made over $60,000,000 on a five million budget.
The scariest part of it all? The amount of cash to be made from the inevitable sequel.
Dir: David F. Sandberg
Scr: Eric Heisserer
Cast: Teressa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Maria Bello, Billy Burke, Alexander DiPersia, Alicia Vela-Bailey
Prd: James Wan, Eric Heisserer, Lawrence Grey
DOP: Marc Spicer
Music: Benjamin Wallfisch
Runtime: 81 mins
Lights Out is available on DVD and Blu-ray 12th December from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment